When I first started using SharePoint, I have to admit that I was not impressed.
The user interface felt uninspired. Some software user interfaces draw you in. For me, SharePoint wasn’t one of them. I remember wondering, “Why would I want to use this?”
I’ve changed my tune. After learning more about SharePoint’s benefits and using it at several client sites, I recognize that it offers a number of benefits to technical writers:
* SharePoint provides a basic Content Management System (CMS). People use a CMS to publish, edit, and manage content, such as documents. A full-blown CMS is expensive whereas SharePoint is frequently already installed in larger organizations. Technical writers can use it to gain control over their documents at the file level.
* SharePoint Foundation 2010 is free. SharePoint 2010 is available in two flavours: SharePoint Server 2010 and SharePoint Foundation. SharePoint Server offers more features than SharePoint Foundation but the latter is free.
* You can use metadata to tag your files. If you are working on a lot of content, adding metadata to your files may be a worthwhile investment because it helps group your content into categories. Metadata is a collection of centrally managed terms that you can define and then use as attributes for a file. Then, after you have tagged your content, other writers can search for documents using the same categories—content is easier to find and update.
* Source control. SharePoint requires you to check out files before you edit them and offers version control of the file. Version control essentially keeps a history of the file. If for some reason you want to resurrect an earlier version of a document, SharePoint makes it easy.
* Collaboration. SharePoint enables teams to collaborate on files. If you are working with another person on a file, each writer can work on the content concurrently and the latest version is then uploaded to the SharePoint site.
* Document control. SharePoint makes it possible to restrict users at the site level. Best practices suggest assigning employees or contractors to user groups.
* Workflows. In SharePoint, you can automate the review process. As a writer, you can create a list of reviewers and add deadlines. SharePoint then sends e-mails to SMEs and sends you an e-mail when they have reviewed the document.
* Translation workflows. If you need to translate your content, SharePoint can assist with the process by reminding external stakeholders to perform tasks by certain dates, and e-mails you when all of the work is complete.
* Easy to use. SharePoint has a similar look and feel to other Microsoft Office products. It sports the familiar Microsoft ribbon and the tasks are pretty straightforward (for technical writers, at least).
* Lots of support content. There are many books, web sites, and blogs about SharePoint. For example, check out these online training courses.
The bottom line: SharePoint is a worthwhile tool if collaboration is important and you need control over your source files. Sounds like a good fit for most technical writers.